Thus far has the Lord helped us
Take heart, for I believe God
16-10-05am Anniversary Service
Call to worship
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Galatians 1:3-4)
Doxology “I will give thanks to Thee” (Scripture in Song) (Screen)
I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57:9-11)
Prayer of Adoration, Thanksgiving, The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father and our God,
You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, Cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might; heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise you; the noble fellowship of prophets praise you; the white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, the Father, of infinite majesty; your true and only Son worthy of all worship; and the Holy Spirit, the comforter.
You Christ are the King of glory, You are the everlasting Son of the Father. When you became man to set us free You did not abhor the virgin’s womb. You overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. You are seated at God’s right hand in glory; we believe you will come to be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood and bring us with the saints to glory everlasting.
God of all mercies, you have made summer and winter, sunshine and rain, seed time and harvest. You have made day and night, heat and cold, for work and rest. Each of these cycles of life serves our welfare and speaks to us of your tender care and your fatherly goodness.
Your mercy and grace are seen: in family who love us; in friends who support us; in laws that defend us; in homes that shelter us; in food that nourishes us; in clothing that warms us; in the measure of good health you give to us; in soundness of mind and clarity of thought; in keenness of senses, intellect, affections, and will.
However, all of these your blessings cannot begin to compare with the vast extent of your wisdom and grace that planned and accomplished our redemption through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour. We worship you for the fact that you came to our rescue in one who is mighty, willing and able--who is able to save completely. We thank you most sincerely that you saw our need of your saving grace and acted so decisively. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts that Jesus willingly shed his blood for us and that through confession of sin, his blood now washes us clean of every guilty stain. We thank you that through faith in Jesus, we have now passed from death to life and that there is now no condemnation for us. We worship you for the fact that you freely justify the guilty: to those who deserve death, you give eternal life and to those who deserve Hell, you grant the blessings of your Heavenly kingdom through faith in your Son, Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray, saying: “Our Father …”
Hymn No 70: “Praise my soul, the King of heaven”
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. (Psalm 103:1-2)
Scripture Reading Acts 27:13-26
Prayer of Confession of sin
Dear Lord, gracious Father in heaven,
We bow in the presence of your holiness and majesty, acknowledging our trespasses. We are like the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah; our sins are hiding your face from us. Our iniquities have separated us from our God. And yet, your arm is not too short to save, nor is your ear to dull to hear.
Within a space of less than a year, You have revealed your holiness and majesty to us in what you have done in extraordinary natural events. We confess that You are in control of the universe. This planet is in your hands. Nothing happens outside of your plan and purpose.
Hundreds of people died in one sweep of the ocean when You allowed a mighty tidal wave to rise, touching many nations. For a moment the world came to a halt. Some repented, but by and large there was no acknowledgement of You. Forgive us, Father.
Nations engaged in war and hundreds die daily because of war. Men and women of our own country, and even our city are taken away from their families and are exposed to danger and death every day. And yet, we try to explain events in terms of political vantage points and not in terms of your eternal decree. Forgive us, Father.
In our own land we hear talk of terrorist threats more frequently. We respond by updating safety measures, but we do not seek your face. Forgive us, Father.
You have sent over this vast and outstretched land the worst drought in human memory. Water restrictions are now reality in most of our big cities. Farmers have to leave their land and live stock because of this drought. And still, we do not seek your face for mercy or amend our ways in your sight. Sin abounds in our land as we actually glorify evil but oppress what is good in your sight. Forgive us, Father.
Once again You lifted your hand against us be sending one sea storm after the other. Helplessly and hopelessly we had to look on as one city after the other was devastated by raging waters. Hundreds died in mudslides and landslides. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, losing every bit of possession they had. Oil prices reached record levels and we scrambled for solutions. But still, we do not repent of our sinful ways to seeking You and worship You above all other gods. Forgive us, Father.
And then, O Lord, far away from the boundaries of the sea You shook the earth and thousands of people died in landslides and collapsed buildings. Deceases spread and people are calling for help from all over the globe. And once again, instead of falling on our knees in remorse before You, we blame You for being unfair and unloving. Forgive us, Father.
Through all the catastrophes You revealed to us your power and You showed us your majesty. We know that there are certain things mankind cannot stand up against; there are forces we can do nothing about. It only stresses the fact that we cannot put our hope on anything of this world. Military power cannot save; economic success cannot save; the best measures to prevent these things to happen cannot bring security. Salvation does not lie in riches, or investments, or more oil, or in tsunami warning systems or buildings designed to withstand earthquakes; salvation does not come from stable governments with strong military power. Salvation comes from You in Jesus Christ.
Father, we confess our foolishness and sin. Teach us the wisdom of your Word; teach us that the beginning of all wisdom is to love and fear You and to love your Word. Save us from our foolishness and rebellion. Help us to bow before the authority and majesty of your Son, lest He smash us to pieces like a clay pot. Purify us through the work of your Holy Spirit. In the Name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20-21)
Hymn No 383: “The Lord made man” (Tune 494)
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Romans 5:15)
Tithes, offering and dedication
Prayer for others
Scripture Reading 1Samuel 7:2-16
Sermon “Thus far has the Lord helped us”
My dear brothers and sisters and children, boys and girls, in the Lord, each one of us has a day we consider very important. Before the age of three this day is not so important. Between the ages of 35-75 this day seems to lose its importance altogether. And after that it becomes more important again. Boys and girls, which day am I talking about? Which day is very important for you? Let’s hear.
; I’ll give you a hint with the pictures on the screen. Does someone perhaps have their birthday today? Or yesterday or in the coming week?
Why do you think today is a very special day for our congregation? Today we celebrate the birthday of this church. And do you know how old it is? 121 years old! We have people in our church who are quite old. Some are older than 90 years of age, but there is no one here who is 121 years old.
On 12 October 1884 some people came together and inducted the first minister into the first Presbyterian Church congregation in Townsville. Many things happened to St Andrews over the years: there was World War I and II; faithful people of St Andrews serving the Lord died in those wars. In years to follow other faithful ones died or moved away. There were times in which the church struggled financially, and of course there was cyclone Althea which struck Townsville in December 1971. The church building was badly damaged and had to be pulled down. This new building was erected on the same site.
God blessed the church. And as we celebrate our 121st birthday we don’t’ have a birthday cake or balloons. We don’t have presents, but on this day we bring honour and praise and thanksgiving to God who promised to protect his church and bless her. On this day we don’t look at our own achievements, but we look at God in thanksgiving, for we know we only exist because of his grace.
And so are there many other congregations, thousands of them right across the globe, some small, others big, all of them existing because of the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Today we acknowledge: ; Thus far has the Lord helped us.
The same God who provided victory to the Israelites is still the head of his church; and as He was honoured by Samuel and the Israelites after the battle against the Philistines, the fierce enemy of God’s people, so we bring Him homage and praise today.
We don’t know what the future holds for the church in Australia. It is in the hands of God. So was the past. How do we approach the future? This question was surely in the minds of the Israelites in the time of Samuel and the Philistines.
; The future begins today – humble repentance
The history of Israel tells the story of a life of stumbling, falling, repentance and restoration. And all the time there was the real threat of war with the Philistines. The Israelites would plant their crops, but there was the real possibility that they would not harvest it. They would tend their flocks of sheep and cattle, but there was the real possibility that they would not enjoy the benefit of the wool and the meat. The Philistines would plunder them over and over again.
; Why? Because they turned away from God! And then God would punish them by allowing the Philistines to plunder them.
This is the story of the modern church also. Churches shrink under the attack of the world and the enemy, and people ask, “Why?” Some Christians give up and lose sight of God’s plan with the church. They join the forces of the world and in some cases actually invite the world into the church with hollow worship, entertainment in the church and unholy music. The Word is not preached and the members of the Church don’t study the Word and they do not live according to the commandments of the Lord. Such a church will not stand in the hour of temptation and trail, purely because it traded the basic principles of being church for what the world has to offer. ; A church where God is honoured with the lips but not with the heart has no future. Let’s learn that lesson from Israel. Let’s repent if such an attitude is found within our ranks.
So God send a prophet to preach the Word of God and bring the people to repentance. This is what happened in 1 Samuel 7. God sent Samuel. His message was clear and simple. Actually God’s people had heard this message over and over again. Samuel’s message was:
If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:3)
That was their choice. That was the recipe for a stable future. Thank God, they heeded his message through his prophet and repented. They got rid of the idols in their midst. The act of drawing water and pouring it out on the ground was a public symbol of their repentance and penitence. You could hear the cry of the people: “We have sinned against the Lord!”
Did God take the enemy away from them after this show of remorse and regret over sin? No! So it is today still with the church. Repentance does not safeguard the church against attacks from the enemy. Let’s be clear about this; it is even possible that the church will have more battles to fight as soon as it decides to fight on the Lord’s side. So, why repent? Let’s follow the story.
; God, the Commander in the conquering battle
My dear brother and sister, brace yourself. Put on the full armour of the Lord. There is a battle to win. You will be involved in it, but the outcome of this battle is not dependent on you or me. For as soon as God’s people repent, finding their refuge in the God of hosts, God becomes the enemy of the enemy. Then the future is bright and the victory is sure.
This corporate act of repentance before God where Israel in their thousands lamented their transgressions before God was seen by the Philistines as an act of provocation and aggression. So, they mustered their ranks with the idea to overrun the troops of the army of the Lord. And the Israelites were terrified to death, imploring the man of God to intercede for them. “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines!”
Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it to the Lord. The enemy looked at this act as the moment in which God’s people would be at their weakest. ; Even today the world laughs at a church praying finding their strength in God. The act of humbling oneself before God is foolishness in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of God it is the only remedy for survival.
Many years later God answered the need of his universal church in a very unusual way; and once again it was a very foolish act in the eyes of the world. On a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem God had his Son die. He was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. There they flogged Him, despised Him, spat on Him, they laughed at Him and mocked Him. And when He died, they put Him in a grave with a seal on it – and they thought they had the victory. But on the third day He conquered the grave and death and hell and sin. There on the cross and through the open grave God answered the prayer of Samuel, and He also answered the prayed of many martyrs through the ages. There He answered the prayers we will offer to Him in the future as we have to face hard times.
; The Bible says God thundered with a loud thunder against the Philistines. Get the picture: God, to whom the thunder and the winds and the clouds are as servants, commanded them to join forces with Him. In the darkness of the cloud and the terrifying bolts of lightning and violent wind God confused the enemy. They had no idea what was going on. Maybe God sent some hail upon them as He did in the day of Gideon. Now they became their own enemy. This would happen over and over again in the history of God’s people. This happened after the resurrection of our Lord, the Lamb of God. The enemy was in a furore of confusion: “How is this possible?”
; Ebenezer – thus far the Lord has helped us
All of a sudden the Israelites realised that the roles were reversed: they were no longer the attacked, but the attacker. They pursued the fleeing Philistines and drove them back out of their territory. God provided a miraculous deliverance. Such is the deliverance of the cross and the open grave. ; At first the apostles locked themselves up in the Upper Room out of fear for the Jews. But after the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and after they were anointed with the Holy Spirit it was a different story. Now openly they proclaimed the Gospel, now openly they challenged the authorities: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
The very fact of the resurrection Christ changed the life of the apostle Paul. He, who persecuted the church, became an apostle of the Gospel of hope. It is this man who now gives every bit of strength to preach the message of Jesus Christ. Here we find him this morning on the ship, tossed about by the waves of the sea, facing danger and hunger. For what reason? For the victory of the Gospel. Today we hear him say: ; “Fear not, for I believe God.”
Samuel took a stone and set it up basically in the same place where the Israelites had previously been defeated by the Philistines, and he declared: “Ebenezer – thus far the Lord has helped us.”
With these words he acknowledged that the victory was because of God and not because of their own doing. ; But with these words he also wanted the Israelites to know that the battle is ongoing. There was no resting on their laurels. The battle against the enemy of the church is an ongoing battle. But the grace of these words is the anchor for the church in times of battle: as the Lord’s has helped in the past, so He will be our Helper in the future.
And now the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8 ring in our ears:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)
Birthday celebration – eyes focussed on the future
My fellow brethren, learn from the lessons of the past. There between Mizpah and Shen in Israel was a stone set up with the name Ebenezer written on it. God has helped his people. On Calvary’s hill a cross was planted. On it was written, “The King of the Jews”, and nailed to it was the Son of God. In the rock face of one of the hills of Jerusalem Joseph of Arimathea had a grave. There they buried the King of the world, the Saviour of the Word, but this tomb is empty for it was impossible for Him to be held by the forces of death.
Today, like a Samuel we say, “Ebenezer – thus far has God helped us”. But celebrating the past, we must also celebrate the future. The resurrection of our Lord spans all of history and it includes the future. Let’s involve ourselves in the battle. Let’s do it in the power of prayer at the feet of our Lord; let’s go forth under the banner of Christ who gave us the Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
May God bless us. AMEN.
Hymn: “Come Thou fount of every blessing” (Screen)
(Rejoice 382 – here with 4 verses)
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)